On a Personal Matter - Message to Friends
By Jordan Riak
November 25, 2003


My doctor tells me that sudden hearing loss strikes maybe 1 in 5,000. So, this seems to be my unlucky day. The short version of the story, if I have it right, is that a viral infection struck the nerves in my inner ear on the right side -- maybe chickenpox that has been lurking in my system since childhood where it was kept in check by my immune system -- leaving that ear incapable of hearing human speech except as faint duck-like quacks. The doctor prescribed Prednisone and Acyclovir which he says should control the symptoms, which are vertigo, pressure in the offending ear and a non-stop whistle like a teakettle (when the ducks aren't quacking) but warned me that the chances for a full recovery aren't good. He says because my immune system is down, the virus seized its opportunity. He urged me to put an automatic reply on my email system and get some rest, maybe a vacation. I didn't bother to try to explain to him that enduring the boredom of a vacation is my idea of grueling work. When my granddaughter, Sierra, heard that I can't hear anything on the right side, she said, "Well, now Grandpa doesn't have to hear any right-wing Republicans." Bless her soul! She's 7 now, and not one word of adult conversation gets by her.

Obviously, circumstances require me to rationalize my schedule and be more selective about new tasks. Many of the wonderful new projects that correspondents send my way, and their invitations to join them in theirs, will have to be ignored. I apologize. The few lists to which I subscribe, which contain some of the most insightful and erudite commentators on the ills of our species, won't be receiving my full attention. I'm aware I could learn so much more about what's wrong with the world if I read every post, but then I'd have less time to try to do something about it.

My plans now are as follows:

I want to complete the Index by Author section of the site. It's maybe only half done at the moment. That will make retrieval of key information easier for readers who don't have the time or patience to plow through the potpourri of Project NoSpank as it stands. (To see how it's coming, see the link to the right of "Table of Contents.")

I want to promote public display of the KIDS' SAFE ZONE sticker in English-speaking countries. (You can see the sticker and information about how to get them a third of the way down on the right-hand side of the Table of Contents page.) I'll go into the details of this project in subsequent messages. I've just begun working on it. It won't be easy. One critic wrote back to tell me that it's unrealistic to preach no-hitting without first teaching caregivers about child development and "alternatives." I answered, explaining that the sticker is not intended as a substitute for parenting instruction any more than the sign on the exit ramp of the shopping mall that says, "Buckle up for Safety" is a substitute for drivers' education. It's an attention-getter. A statement of policy and, hopefully, a gentle prod to do the right thing. After receiving a sample sticker and an offer of them free in any quantity, a major retailer of toys wrote back a glowing letter of praise and appreciation for our work. But the closing sentence said, in effect, that they must decline the offer because they do not believe it's appropriate for them to comment on their customers' personal choices and behaviors. Had someone offered them No Smoking stickers 25 years ago, or suggested they desegregate their rest rooms 25 years before that, you can be sure they would have written a similar letter. As I said, it won't be easy. But we'll find takers before long and the message will be heeded, and eventually it will be taken for granted.

I've been doing my own informal testing of the sticker during my daily trips to the market and the post office. The other day when my son, Justin, Sierra's dad, bought some supplies from Richards Arts and Crafts, he saw a clerk wearing one of our stickers on her shirt. When he commented on it, she told him that the manager gave it to her to wear. I had left a few at the store the day before. In the post office, I saw a grandmother holding her 3-year-old granddaughter up so she could put the letters into the mail slot. I took my cue. "I see you have your little helper with you today!" We exchanged smiles and I gave her a sticker. "What's that, Grandma?" the child asked. The grandmother read, "Kids' safe zone. No spanking." The child asked, "What's 'spanking,' grandma?" Music to my ears. The grandmother and I exchanged broad, knowing grins. The Alamo Postmaster said she will happily place stickers at the entrance of the post office if she can get permission to do so from the postmaster general in Washington. I'm working on that. There was an area of the shopping center that developed into an after-school meeting ground for the teeny-teen set -- 10- to 14-year olds. When I passed by recently, I complimented a boy for his skate boarding acrobatics, and he reciprocated by giving me an exhibition of his entire repertoire. As I walked away, he called after me, "Hey mister, you're a nice man. Other people just tell us to get out of the way." I went to the car and brought back a supply of stickers and did a landslide business. One boy shouted (they mainly shout, rarely talk at that age when they are in each other's company) "Look where Jeanie put hers! She stuck it on her bum!" The girl turned to show me and everybody laughed. The following afternoon, I made it a point to go past that area with a good supply of stickers, but the kids had been chased away. Surely they're still meeting somewhere, but out of sight. What a pity. Yesterday, in the same parking area, I heard a loud crack followed by a child's howling. I marched over, sticker at the ready, and waited until the grim-faced mom finished stuffing her miserable child into the car seat. "This is for you," I said, and handed her a KIDS' SAFE ZONE sticker, which she took without making eye contact. I turned and walked away.

Over the years I've obsessively collected anti-corporal punishment research. I have file cabinets and cartons full of the stuff, and some of the best material is on the Web site. But that strategy has run its course. It is no longer necessary to prove that violent coercion in child rearing is unnecessary and dangerous any more than it is necessary to prove that the earth isn't flat. More time spent there, while it will surely uncover details of interest to scientists, isn't essential to the argument that should be driving social reform. Everything that needed to be proven on the subject to open the way to reform has been proven by researchers of half a century ago or more such as Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck, Ashley Montagu, and Columbia University Professor Herbert A. Falk in the 40s and before them by historian George Ryley Scott in the 30s, and Chicago University Professor Boris Sidis in the 10s -- not to mention excellent contemporary authors, some of whom are receiving this letter, whose research confirms and expands upon that of their predecessors. The time is long overdue to bring mainstream behavior into alignment with the long-standing, overwhelming consensus of expert opinion. Those reforms are being implemented in a dozen other advanced nations. Sweden, the first, began a quarter of a century ago. Their good results are unarguable. And that has paved the way for astute imitators. But why isn't it happening everywhere? Why not in the United States? Must we delay until we've convinced every last living Neanderthal, including the few of them who hold doctorates? Shouldn't the creation of a safe zone for children take precedence over the maintenance of a comfort zone for fools? The real reasons for the foot-dragging are, to put it bluntly, guilt, shame, complicity and moral cowardice. I'm out of patience with that. And I hope every reader of this letter is out of patience with it too.

Finally, I am working on a project that compares the statistics for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and accidents in the first year of life in Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Germany, Austria, Italy and the United States. In the first seven countries listed, physical punishment is illegal in homes and schools. In schools, it has been illegal for many years. In the Unites States, however, we seem to be stuck in a rut with regard to humane treatment of children. Teachers in 22 states may legally hit students, and parents may hit their children in all states. A parallel distinction between the one hitter nation and the seven non-hitters is the gross disparity between their rates of SIDS and accident-related fatalities of infants and toddlers. My hunch is that these "SIDS" and "accidental" deaths are largely an American invention: misnomers, euphemisms, alibis. Otherwise the fatality rates for the above-listed nations would be more in line. I haven't any training as a statistician, but I think I can recognize the smell of something rotten when it's nearby. If my theory interests any better-qualified scholars reading this, grab it and run with it. Please! If the result is what I anticipate, it will be a very bitter, but necessary, pill for Americans to swallow. So, the more confirmation, the better.

By the way, while I was writing this letter, the ducks and the teakettle were quiet. So don't worry about me. I'm fine.


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